Sake is brewed like a beer but enjoyed like a wine, making it a multi-dimensional drink in its own right. While many Japanese restaurants in the UK serve sake, breweries like Kanpai Sake are showing the country what the drink is made of and use ancient techniques.
Sake, though tricky to make, is best enjoyed fresh, so the closer to home it’s made, the better. Kanpai takes pride in being UK’s first sake brewery and the sake is made from four simple ingredients – rice, water, yeast and koji. The rice is polished and imported from Japan. They also hand fill and label every bottle and the wide range of sake is made from start to finish on site.
The Kanpai Sake Journey
The Kanpai Sake brewery is the brainchild of husband and wife, Tom & Lucy Wilson, and the idea came about in 2016. The inception and development of this brewery happened organically in London.
“Our main goal is to spread our love of sake,” says Tom Wilson. “After our holiday in Japan, I had no vision of ever opening a sake brewery, it was never on the cards. I started working with rice fermentation at home which was mainly just a bit fun at home but massively got out of control.
I was home brewing with my wife for four years and the bottles took over our flat. It was just a hobby. We then started spreading the word on Instagram and before we knew it, we had people knocking on our door who wanted to buy it.
We then looked into the legal side of it and worked with HMRC on getting a categorisation for sake. We received our first licence in 2017. We commenced our first commercial brews that were small 500 litres – a sizeable jump from 25-75 litres from our home brew.”
Kanpai’s sake was launched in Selfridges and other stores in summer of 2017. To hone their craft, Tom and Lucy traveled the length and breadth of Japan once or twice a year, spoke to suppliers, and built relationships by visiting many sake breweries.
What started in a lockup in Peckham became a larger business and the current site where the brewery is functional in Copeland Park is where all the magic happens. It is in the perfect location with plenty of great food to enjoy near the brewery with the sake.
A Sake style for everyone
Tom recommends trying sweeter sakes for complete beginners to ease into sake drinking and more savoury styles for those with a mature palate.
The team has been inspired to experiment with their sake being fans of craft beer and spirits. Their sake ranges from seasonal batches to their flagship sakes. The assortment of sakes includes bold savoury sakes, fruity sakes, cloudy sakes, sparkling sakes, and cloudy sakes.
There are also unique sakes with a local touch such as their ‘HANA’ which is a part of their premium fruit sake series. This is a pure British junmai sake infused with yuzu from Japan.
Sake has loads of umami, for mixologists and bartenders, carefully chosen sakes leave room for creativity. “Start with small bottles of sake and try them. If you’re still not sure where to begin, come over to Kanpai and try a flight. There is a sake out there for everyone,” Tom says.
The brewery also keeps sustainability at the heart of its operations. The four main by-products of sake are versatile. Sake kasu can be used for marinades and in Japan, it is also used in making cosmetics as it has great amino acids. Koji spores can be used for fermentation or flavouring.
Barrel-aged sake vinegar (aged in burgundy oak) has great finesse and can be used for dressing or seasoning. Mirin is a by-product of kasu and is often used in cooking. Kanpai compiles a chef’s pack and all four by-products are sold to restaurants.
Kanpai’s future looks bright as the team aims to have over 100 varieties of sake by this summer. They still have one foot in Japan and the other in London with ongoing collaborations with beer breweries.